DEAR DR. FOX: I believe that most neutered cats belong in pairs. I have had nine Siamese cats, mostly in pairs. The surviving member of my penultimate pair grieved deeply and hid from me for about five months. When she came out, she was a changed kitty. When she passed, I acquired a pair of littermates who never spent a night apart and were my best friends for 20 years. I did not want the surviving partner to go through what the last one had and spent many hours thinking about their eventual demise.
At 19 years, I knew statistically it would be soon. One evening we returned home from dinner to find our beloved male, Oedipus, could not move his back legs. He had jumped from a chair excited to eat three hours prior. I knew time was short, so I made an appointment for euthanasia the next day. I took both cats to the vet.
In the vet’s office, I placed Oedipus on the table and let his sister, Phaedra, out of the cage to join him. She jumped up with him and inspected him thoroughly. When she lost interest, I placed her back in her cage.
After the vet euthanized Oedipus and we were sure he was gone, I let Phaedra out of the cage to be with him again. She checked him out thoroughly and eventually lost interest again; I put her back in her cage, and we departed.
Her grieving process was very short. She looked everywhere in the house, then adopted his position as primary lap cat. The difference in the grieving process with Phaedra seeing that Oedipus was gone was remarkable. I know in my heart that her being able to know he was dead and not suddenly just gone helped her.
I recommend allowing surviving pets to see the deceased, acknowledge the change in being and grieve gently, instead of fretting about the disappearance and fearing the same unknown will happen to them.
I hope this information helps some people with the future loss of their pets. -- A.A.R., Naples, Florida
DEAR A.A.R.: Your observations and suggestions are important for all cat owners to consider, beginning with adding another cat to the home if you have only one! The essential steps to take to introduce a new cat are posted on my website, DrFoxVet.net.
I have also posted a long review on how animals grieve the loss of a loved one, human or non-human. As you note, some show little grief but may well benefit from having the opportunity to examine the deceased. Some cats will yowl loudly day and night after experiencing such loss, but others, like many people, seem to take it in stride. In my experience, cats will search the house more frequently when the companion animal is missing (for instance, at the vet's office or escaped outdoors for a while) than after they have been able to see the body of the deceased before removal from the home.
DEAR DR. FOX: It became apparent that it was time to put my 17-year-old cat down on New Year’s Eve. Not able to stand “Kitten’s” pain, I called around and found a vet who was willing to come to my home on New Year’s Day. He claimed a shot right into Kitten’s stomach was the best thing to do, and after the injection my family and I petted him for several minutes as he died. During this time, Kitten opened his eyes fearfully and gasped for air -- then was gone. It didn’t seem like a particularly painless way to go.
I would like your opinion on the least painful method of putting a cat or dog to sleep, as I have several other animals who will one day need to be put down. -- S.S., Herndon, Virginia
DEAR S.S.: I regret that you and your cat went through this experience, because this is not the best or usual way to euthanize a cat or dog.
Injecting the euthanasia solution into the abdominal cavity should be done only when a vein cannot be successfully injected, which usually ensures a smooth and quick unconsciousness and death from cardiac arrest. The abdominal injection process is slower, and the animal may struggle and gasp for air repeatedly.
In such instances where a limb or neck vein cannot be successfully injected, the best euthanasia protocol is to give an injection first into the thigh muscle of a strong sedative. This two-step procedure is the best way to help ensure a humane death. The next time around, request that the veterinarian who comes to your home follows this protocol.
In an earlier column concerning a dog’s fear of being in a car, I suggested a veterinary prescription of Xanax (alprazolam). However, I included an incorrect dosage: Rather than giving the dog 0.5 grams, I recommend giving 0.5 milligrams. In addition, I want to add that you should never treat a companion animal with any of your own medications.
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